Le, La, Les: The French Definite Article in Context
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is a word that is placed before a noun
or adjective to indicate the type
of reference being made to the noun. Articles can
be definite (showing a reference
to a specific person or thing) or indefinite
(showing reference to any one person, place
or thing out of a general group).
definite article in English is made
up of one word – ‘the’
– but in French, this is complicated by the
fact that the definite article must change form to
agree with the gender and number of the noun to which
is silent; pronounced like the ‘le-’
sound in ‘let’)
there are significant differences in the way the definite
article is used in French and in English:
generalizing or using abstract nouns,
the definite article is used in French, whereas
in English it is entirely omitted:
plantes produisent de l’oxygène
Plants produce oxygen
cherchent la gloire
They seek glory
nourriture est chère
dans ce pays
Food is expensive in this
referring to parts of the
body, especially if these are the object
of the verb or used reflexively (meaning
the originator of the action is also its receipt
point) , the French can use the
definite article and the owner
of the body part is simply understood, whereas in
English the possessive
article is used as appropriate (my,
her, his, their):
s’est cassé le
He has broken his
se lave les mains
She is washing her
ferme les yeux
He is closing his eyes
referring to countries and regions
the definite article is used in French but
not in English:
that the definite article in the singular masculine
and feminine (le and la)
is elided to l’
when used with nouns and adjectives
beginning with a vowel or beginning
with a silent ‘h’ (hence L’Angleterre
and not La Angleterre).
definite article is also used in French when referring
to languages, unlike English:
- Le français
Note: in French, the name of the country (France)
takes a capital letter, but the adjectival form
(français) is lower case.
However, when used with the verb parler
(to speak), this does not apply
and no definite article
precedes the language:
She speaks English
But (without the verb ‘parler’):
She is learning English
A French text will contain, on average,
a much larger amount of definite articles
than an English text, especially due to the
obligatory omission of the definite article
in English abstract and generic noun. The
use of too few definite articles in French or too
many in English can often betray a lack of fluency
in either language.
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